As you know, I have been reading Lori Smith’s book, Following Jane Austen: A Journey of Adventure, Love, and Faith, with great interest. Two reviews already sit in my archives, and a third one is coming. Each review reflects my thoughts on the three sections in which the book is divided. Lori kindly agreed to be interviewed as well, answering my ten questions with such speed that I am able to post them just as her book becomes publicly available!
1. You wrote so much about your life, intertwining it with Jane’s in the book. How close did you feel to Jane during your journey? Care to share a special memory that was not included in the book?
I felt so close to Jane during the trip. I felt a kinship with her already, which made me want to go, but to be studying her life and following in her footsteps, to be where she lived and walked and prayed — it was wonderful. I think I included pretty much everything in the book! But one of my favorite days was walking in the fields around Steventon, nearly getting lost, knowing that things must look something like they did when Jane was there, and then finally (because Phil and Sue Howe of Hidden Britain Tours helped me) being able to get to see the inside of Steventon church.
2. I believe you mentioned discovering Jane Austen in college. Which of her novels are your favorites, and why?
I love Pride and Prejudice — the first one I read. (Doesn’t everyone??) But Persuasion is also a favorite. I love Anne, and it’s a quieter and more reflective story, coming from an older Austen. Actually, depending on the day you ask me, my favorite changes.
3. Writing is a tough profession and not for the faint-hearted. What made you go for the “gusto” and pursue a career in this field?
I had been freelancing on the side for about five years, and had published one book (The Single Truth). I was traveling to do some speaking in support of that, and had tons of writing ideas I wanted to pursue. Eventually it got to the point that I couldn’t continue to work all day and write at night and on the weekends — I just didn’t have the energy. So I decided to go for it, for at least a year. (Being miserable in my job probably helped tip the scales.) That was two and a half years ago. Financially, it’s incredibly difficult, and I kind of wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I love it, though, and it was one of those things I knew I had to try.
4. It isn’t easy to just get up and go on a long journey. You mentioned a period of transition in your life, including questioning where you were heading spiritually and quitting your job. Did you feel a sense of adventure as you embarked on this quest? Or were you afraid, and had no choice but to forge on?
It was all those things. I was terrified and thrilled. I could easily have not done it, have decided it was too much to attempt, but I hate to think of my fears holding me back, so I went. I had been struggling with depression, and I think in some ways that helped to push me. I wanted to reinvent things and forge a new life — begin to live again. In terms of adventures, this one was fairly tame, but for me it required some bravery and a willingness to push myself a bit outside my comfort zone.
5. You spoke about taking along a backpack. Did this include a laptop, or did you jot down notes? How did you schedule a typical “workday?” Did you email back chapters for someone to proof read as you went along? Or did you write down your recollections after you returned?
I expected to have time to write on the trip, but didn’t really. If I had it to do over again, I might make the trip a bit longer so I could write more, but money was tight, and a month felt extravagant already. I took a notebook with me and wrote detailed notes about every day–on the train, in the evenings, over tea. (It’s now one of my most treasured possessions!) I had a little word processor, and did some writing on that, but not too much. Some of this writing made it almost directly into the book, but most of it was unpublishable — a simple record of what happened and what I was feeling.
Actually, the reason I kept such detailed notes was because of a rejection I’d recently received from The Washington Post Magazine. I was doing a piece for them about a beach trip, but because I hadn’t kept a journal, it didn’t have enough emotional immediacy. The editor was kind enough to give me that feedback (often a rejection letter offers no explanations), so I decided on this trip I needed to keep a notebook and keep track of things. I wish I could thank that editor in person! (She’s since moved on, I’m not sure where.) Without that rejection, I’m not sure this book would ever have come to be.
6. Which came first? The book contract or the book? Did you pitch the idea before you went on your journey, or did you have faith that the book would find an interested publisher?
I hoped the trip would turn into a book, but I had no idea and tried hard to view the trip just as a time to explore, so that it could be a success regardless of what came out of it. Had I been a more established writer, I could probably have gotten a contract prior to traveling, but that wasn’t the case. And I wasn’t quite sure what I would find or if I’d really have enough material. I did the trip in July of ’05, and we actually didn’t pitch the book until March of ’06. It took me a while to get enough together for a proposal and figure out how to structure it. After that things went fairly quickly for the publishing world. So, it’s been a two-year process.
7. Have you kept in touch with the people you encountered during your trip?
Not so much. There are a few I hear from from time to time, and there are several I’ll definitely see again if I go back to England.
8. You oversee two blogs, own a house, actively pursue a demanding career, and are about to embark on a whirlwind series of publicity appearances. How do you find time for self-renewal, or a quiet series of moments to write?
I hope there’s a whirlwind of publicity! (Every writer’s dream!) For me I find that writing goes in phases. I love the marketing/publicity phase almost as much as the quiet of writing, and I have a hard time doing both at the same time. Living by myself still gives me a lot of quiet time, but I feel like I need to do a better job of finding space to write, pray, and just be, in the midst of the marketing craziness.
9. On your journey, did you glean any wonderful insights about Jane that are not in your book?
As I reread her books after coming home, I realized that there’s actually a lot of grace in Austen’s writing — the idea that we all fail miserably (to whatever degree) and generally are incredibly blessed (whatever form those blessings take). I think there’s a direct correlation there to what Jane felt about her own life. She knew her failures, and she knew (regardless of financial struggles or the fact that she didn’t marry) that she was really rich. She had nothing to do, but like Catherine in NA, “Forgive herself and be happier than ever.” That’s comforting to me.
10. Any other special memories?
I think that’s it… I hope readers can relate to it, and that it will inspire a few to take Austen pilgrimages of their own.
Thank you for answering my questions, Lori. I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying your book. (Yes, I still have to finish Part III, and will post the last of my thoughts just as your book becomes widely available this week).
- For my other reviews on Lori’s book, click here.
Lori’s photos of her trip (in the order shown):
- Magdalene College, view of the bell tower
- Lori’s favorite spot at the bay window, Alton Abbey common room
- Fields around Steventon (actually, this one is between Ashe and Deane)